Gothenburg Riots: An Eye witness Reports

Gothenburg wasn’t what Bibbi Vega had expected. “If I had known what was going to happen I might not have gone.” she said afterwards. “What should have been a huge success for the anti EU-movement was overshadowed by the meaningless violence.”

The anti- Bush demonstration on Thursday gathered 10.000-15.000 people, the demonstration (Sweden out of the EU) on Thursday about 20.000 and the big demonstration on Saturday 20.000-25.000! The biggest anti-EU demonstrations in Sweden ever! Great seminars and debates: it was supposed to be fun.

I came home on Sunday and the first thing I did was cry. The days in Gothenburg were a couple of the worse days in my life. Am I exaggerating?

Maybe it was the fact, that we were so closed to getting hurt that scares me. What frightens me the most are the discussions we are having in Sweden now. Public opinion feels that the police did a good job and they should have greater authority. They should use water-canons and tear-gas and not have numbers on their helmets. Few care that they fired at a 19-year old boy and that he might not survive. Instead they think the police should have fired sooner, and as for the boy, he was throwing cobble-stones so he had it coming. How can people be so cruel?

I went with a friend. Our original plan was to go to Gothenburg on Wednesday evening and stay at Hvitfeldska school  but something went wrong with the booking so we arranged to stay at Schillerska school ( a central school close to Hvitfeldska). When we arrived, on Thursday,  a friend that was supposed to meet us phoned and said that the police had entered Hvitfeldska.

Hvitfeldska was the school where most of the seminars were supposed to take place and where many of the foreign demonstrators were staying together with Ya basta!, the white overalls, anarchists and the autonomes and pacifists.

The police stormed the school around 8:am, when most were asleep. People were offered the chance to leave if they stated their names, social security numbers and address and let the police search their bags. Many of them found these conditions to be unacceptable and stayed. People gathered outside to give their support, so the police decided to surround the building with containers and police-officers. The police  version of why they entered is that they suspected that criminal activities were  being planned.

Apparently some activists trying to get to Hvitfeldksa got into a confrontation with the police in Vasaparken (a park near the school). The police claimed that the activists threw cobble-stones and set a police car on fire.

At approximately 4 pm about 1.500 attended a big Bush-mooning. Several people mooned Bush in front of his hotel. It was a fun gathering and afterwards people started walking and shouting "Bush not welcome!" and "Bush go home!". It stopped in a park and there people were encouraged to go to Hvitfeldska. When we reached Vasaparken the police lined up in front of us. I had a hard time getting out.

We went to the big anti Bush demonstration at 5.30:pm. It started peacefully and people were enjoying themselves, the police officer in front had a little police-puppet that he waved with! More than 10.000 people demonstrated under the slogan: "Bush not welcome". It was successful. While we were walking towards the meeting-place, Götaplatsen, some 200-300  "masked activists" left the demonstration and went to Hvitfeldska. (We were not aware of this at the time it happened).

After the demonstration and the speeches I wanted to go to Hvitfeldska and see what had happened, I was curious. Apparently I was not the only one. We were a couple of thousand (1.000-3.000) standing outside and showing our solidarity (or something) with them. The people inside attempted several break outs and some managed to get out. It wasn’t easy since they had to get on the containers and then jump down. This resulted in several broken feet and other injuries such as dog bites. There was a bad "vibe" as the crowed was chased back. You can imagine a couple of hundred (many had left) running towards you. I have a bad knee, so we decided we’d had enough for on day.

On Thursday night and Friday morning there was a feeling of  confusion. What was going to happen with the break-through action that Ya basta! had planned? The people in charge were arrested and no one knew what to expect. Many were also angry with the police. Several activists were kept in buses for fourteen hours! In Sweden you can’t be deprived of your freedom for more than six hours, twelve hours in special cases, unless they are going to prosecute you.

Friday: 9.30:am There was a big rally with a couple of thousand at Götaplatsen. When it ended a couple of odd left organisations which were not given permission to have a demonstration gathered under the banner: "The anti-capitalist march". They planned to marsh to Mässan, where the meeting was taking place.  These groups made it clear in their leaflets that they were not going to be masked and they weren’t. Still it was quite a sight to see 300-400 black dressed activists (the autonomes, anarchists and so on)  cover their faces. It was a frightening sight!

The march turned into a little street and there it stayed. The police blocked the way. Somehow the police chased the ´black block’  back towards the square where the rally was being held. There was only one problem - the square is in the end of the shopping street, Avenyn. This meant that the police in fact chased them down Gothenburg’s equivalence of London’s Oxford Street.

Three- to four hundred people started running towards us, with the police behind. They started barricading themselves - that’s when we knew it was time for us to go. Ironically we had to go to the police station as I had lost my handbag! As we were on our way to the police station, this happened…

The masked activists ran down Avenyn and broke practically all the windows, they robbed a couple of stores and burned furniture and carpets. Several activists and police officers were injured, about 200 activists were arrested.

They destroyed Avenyn. Most people were in shock - how could this have happened? (We were a safe distance from it all, and we heard what had happened from the police at the station. When we got back they were already cleaning up, this within an hour! People were having lunch and taking walks! Unbelievable! My friends that stayed got too close to the ‘black block’ and when the police put in their dogs one of them was bitten. She had to go to the hospital for some stitches. (As for my bag…a nice young man phoned my parents to say that he had my bag, we met, I got my bag back, nothing was missing and I wasn’t hurt!).

7.30:pm, the big red demo! Sweden out of the EU! They had banned masking, something that had nothing to do with the events earlier that day. It was fantastic, 20.000 demonstrators! The biggest anti-EU demonstration in Sweden ever!

Around 8:pm "Reclaim the city" had planned a party. It was to be held at Avenyn but considering what happened it was moved to Vasaparken. It started with music and dancing. A fight broke out. This is what I’ve been told by several people: Nazis turned up, 10-15, they started a fight. The police went in to stop the disturbances. People were angry with the police and they attacked them with cobble stones. (Most of the streets in Gothenburg consist of cobble-stones). Chaos. Activists smashed police cars and attacked police officers. Strange things happened. Police officers started throwing stones back at the activists. A policeman was hit on the head with a stone and fell to the ground, and they continued to throw stones at him while he lay unconscious. His colleague fired between four and seven times and hit three activists.

(This all while the demonstration, a couple of blocks away, was ending).

My friend and I were planning a night out and were heading back to the school. We heard on the radio that there were confrontations. We stayed to see what was happening, after a while there were rumours about people being shot. As the police started to ride into the crowd that was watching we went back to the school. People were upset and scared. Most of them that had to leave Hvitfeldska were now staying at our school, Schillerska.

When we got to our room I looked out the window and saw the police in full armour with their shields towards the school. I was scared and made my friend pack. We left the school and began our night tour of the city. We heard of another school out of town and somehow we got there.

On Saturday the police in Gothenburg received permission to cancel temporarily the Schengen agreement in Gothenburg so that they could stop foreign demonstrators from coming in to the country!

Saturday: The day of the big demonstration! 20.000-25.000 people had gathered! The route was changed due to the events of the previous day.

Unfortunately the events of the previous day put a damper on it for many of us. We heard on the radio that the condition was critical for the boy that was shot in the chest. The demonstration was delayed for two hours! The police claimed that some 200-300 persons in the ´black block´ were armed with thick sticks. It was a lie!

Finally at 11.30 the march started. It was huge. I started at the front with ATTAC and moved my way through the different blocks (except the masked black one). I have to say that ATTAC was the most fun! Especially the crazy Norwegians. When it ended few people stayed to hear the speeches as the rain was pouring.

On our way out of the city we got a phone-call from a friend telling us to get out of the city. There were rumours going around that the 19-year old boy had died and an illegal anti-violence demonstration was planned. The demonstration was to be held at Järntorget at 7:pm. As we were walking to the train station the city seemed empty except for all the police. We saw four activists walking on the other side of street. Three police vans that were heading to the city stopped when they saw them.

Police officers in riot gear jumped out of the vans and ordered them to stop. The activists were taken away in the vans. These things happened all day long. We decided to stay at our school, out of the city. I just wanted to get home, I’d seen enough.

At 7:pm a peaceful anti-violence demonstration was stopped by the police. Demonstrators were surrounded for several hours as the police claimed to be looking for a German armed terrorist. Swedes were let go, the rest were held for a longer time, some were even deported!

On Sunday morning I heard on the radio about the police raid against Schillerska. The special armed force had entered the school with automatic weapons forcing everyone in the school to get out and lie down on the wet ground with their hand on their necks! They had to lie there for over an hour! The Swedish police have gone mad! They claimed to be looking for an armed German terrorist! How difficult is it to find out if someone is German or not? Nothing was found at Schillerska, no Germans and definitely no weapons.

After police beat demonstrators in Malmö in April during the anti-EMU march we succeeded in having the police helmets numbered so that they could be identified in the future. Now that’s being called into question . .

I don’t agree with the methods of the ‘black block’ activists. They appall me, but what is happening here is not about them! It’s about our right demonstrate without risking our lives, it should be a fundamental right.

New laws won’t stop the ‘black block activists’, they will only drive them to take more extreme measures. But the new laws will make it more difficult for all other activists in their (our) struggle.

Bibbi Vega is a member of the youth wing of the Swedish Left Party. Like many young Left Party activists she is critical of her party’s response to the riots, accusing them of being overly concerned by their image in the media.